RMIM Archive Article "239".
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
# RMIM Archives..
# Subject: K. L. Saigal: the pilgrim of the swara 6
# Posted by: ADhareshwar@WorldBank.Org (Ashok)
# Source: K. L. Saigal: the pilgrim of the swara
# Clarion Books, New Delhi, 1978
# Author: Ragava R. Menon
From the RMIM Article Archive maintained by Satish Subramanian
Sometime around the early part of this century, music began to be
taught by a teacher. This method began slowly to be known as
tuition. The _gharanas_ of music were at the time the main
strongholds of the closed and secret practice of the art. A
large number of these so-called teachers belonged to these
distinguished _gharanas_ and were the beneficiaries of the
authentic wisdom and practice of their art. There is no doubt
that many of them were nourished at well-known sources of musical
It is true that they had afterwards abandoned the continued
and exacting practice needed to keep the window open on their
art, to keep it quick within them for a lifetime. There were
several reasons for what can be called a kind of renegading on
their vocations of which many accused such teachers. Apart from
the qualitative differences between them as musicians these
teachers were driven to tuitions largely because of economic
reasons. The slow disintegration of the joint families which
began sometime at the end of the last century and which in the
past guaranteed their members food and shelter all their lives,
made it necessary for these men to seek alternative sources of
livelihood. There was very little money in the practice of the
musician's art in the world of performance alone and since music
was all these men knew they took to teaching it for a fee.
Some at least of these musicians that came from these
distinguished _gharanas_ of the time were not merely proficient
singers and performers, but transformed men. They had understood
and experienced the true meaning of the music they had so
arduously acquired in the context of the evolutionary processes
of life. They also knew very clearly, in their very natures as
it were, then they put out to teach that, while they embodied
_gharanas_ closely enough they would themselves never attain to
those multiple dimensions, reach the very jetting source of the
art as their own _gurus_ had. This they knew very clearly.
So they did not promise their students that there was any
possibility in the normal course for them to attain to greatness.
Proficiency, yes; virtuosity, if they worked hard; cleverness
and wit, if they had the gift; pleasure and a measure of ecstatic
enjoyment, almost certain; but greatness, very remote, almost
impossible. Listening to the utterances of the archetypes of
these _gharanas_, many aspiring students hoped to achieve the
same magnified clarity at one or two removes through such
tuitions. This hope arose out of a poor understanding of the
true nature of our music.
For example, the students were never ready to believe that
this art cannot be communicated entirely through the conventional
teaching method, then beginning all over the country in the
general educational world. It was possible only through the
_guru-shishya_ relationship. Very few people find it possible to
understand the difference between the _guru-shishya_ and the
teacher-student relationship. They think these are the same
things, only different names. They admit the qualitative
differences of a sort, religious matters, like ritual joining of
the student with his _guru_ by a sanctified thread and also to
obedience and service of the _guru_.
Apart from these superficial and decorative gestures, they
believed that the _guru-shishya parampara_ to be the same thing
as the teacher-student relationship. Nothing could be farther
from the truth. Abroad, in other countries, this
misunderstanding of the true nature of the _guru-shishya_
relationship has led to much maligning of this unique and
But this largely because Indians themselves do not know
anything more about it than the foreign social scientist and both
together join in misrepresenting it to each other. This is a
crucial aspect of the art of learning and needs to be understood.
Any teacher of music can provide an environment in which a
true _guru-shishya_ relationship can exist. But it needs certain
irreducible minimum conditions without which the relationship
cannot be developed.
It needs firstly a certain single-minded passion for music
in the student, so that his teacher might become a _guru_ to him.
This is not merely a love for music or a desire to learn it. It
is a fierce, consuming desperate state of mind which is prepared
to abandon all to acquire this art. It is a totally timeless
approach. That is, there exists nothing between the student and
the music he is committed to learn. No considerations extraneous
to learning the art. He has no time-frame in which he conceives
he must acquire the art, no condition of comfort or convenience
or minimum needs, no personal existence apart from this purpose.
It is such a pupil who acquires what the _gharanas_ have
produced once or sometimes twice in each generation and sometime
The fact that in traditional India the method of teaching
prevalent was the _guru-shishya parampara_ did not mean that
every student who joined the _gurukul_ automatically acquired a
_guru_. The actual product of the _parampara_ which is the
unique creative person who stood in symbolic relationship to his
time occurred because of an unique relationship of a student with
his _guru_. The system was no more responsible for this person
than the apple that fell on Newton's head was responsible for the
Third Law of Motion.
The _parampara_ was only a convenience, an ideal environment
for the acquisition of a _guru_. That was all. It was always
the student who sought out a teacher, never the other way around.
The triggering mechanism of this relationship was the student.
Never the teacher. To say that the _guru-shishya parampara_ is
dying out in India is to say that it is no longer possible for a
student to love the art more than his very life any more. It
does not imply that there are no teachers who can become _guru_s
to students who have the necessary psychological motivation.
Most of the collateral features of such a relationship which
are given so much importance in latter day analyses of the
_parampara_, such physical service to the _guru_, implicit
obedience to him, are small and peripheral symptoms of this
passion and not the cause or a substitute for it. Every
generation has produced men and women with such passion capable
of _guru_ right up to the present time. Few, certainly, and they
have always been few, but enough to put the wonder and the
mystery back into the simple art that is taught in schools as
Unfortunately, this relationship cannot be observed from the
outside, for it cannot be understood apart from the art itself.
For the greater part of this relationship lies outside time and
space. The specifics of _raga_ and _tala_ or compositions can be
acquired easily and by the simplest instruction. The real thing
which such a student acquires from his _guru_ occurs through a
subtle osmosis, a non-material transmission which is formless and
without parts. There is more than knowledge which passes between
them. And this does not take the form of a teaching but
manifests itself as a change of being. This capacity to
transform one's being arises out of the interaction between the
_guru_ and the _shishya_ and is a kind of rebirth. The student
extracts this out of his _guru_ with the strength of his own
Saigal was one of these all-or-nothing types. There is no
doubt that he tried to appear like most other people, but he was
deeply aware of a basic difference between his own inner nature
and the aims and purposes of the world into which he was born.
We know that Saigal born into a highly sensitive musical
family [Unsupported assertion.]. His mother was apparently the
source of this gift. But the young Kundan Lal, his mother
discovered, was not merely musical as she was. He had a whole
temperament that went along with his intense love for music. His
total disinterestedness towards his studies, his lack of
ambition, his dreamy entranced state of mind, all these were
grievous disappointment to his father, who was after all a very
successful Tehsildar of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, somewhat
imperious and not excessively tolerant towards failures and
Kundan never passed his examinations. He was hardly
interested in the first thing in his education. He was unable to
remember a hurt, was generous and compassionate, totally without
rancour or pride caring little for the value of money,
indifferent towards possessions, he was in fact a giant-sized
failure. The father grieved over his son.
They often clashed. The son, timorous and bewildered by the
fury of the old man, found an ally in his mother who was
understanding, perpetually loving, shielding him from the horrors
of a beating, hiding him away from his father's helpless fury.
Before Saigal's voice broke into the tenor baritone of his
mature years, it likely that he had a high soprano. Describing
this period of his life to the astrologer Badri Prasad, Saigal
dwelt at some length on his earliest experience as an actor. He
was only about ten when he began acting as Sita in the Ram Lila
celebrations in Jammu where he was raised. He recalled that he
used to scream so shrilly when he was being kidnapped by the
villainous Sunil Raina, who was the Ravana every year, that he
was sometimes in danger of being dropped on the ground by the
fleeing demon of Lanka. This was a singing role, this Sita of
the young Saigal, and he loved it and waited expectantly the
whole year for the witching month of October to come round again,
so that he might sing as the wronged and virtuous Sita.
His father's attitude towards these activities of his son at
least at that time seems to have been neutral. He was still in
service as a Tehsildar, a position in those days of some
authority and official importance. He knew that his son was fond
os singing and seemed to have a gift for it and people liked to
hear him. The Ram Lila celebrations in his area were the most
popular in Jammu largely because of its singing heroine. In
other parts of the town the Ram Lila had dumb clucks for their
heroines. Sita with heavily made up faces who, if they tried to
sing at all, raised cracked high-pitched yelps to the heavens so
that when in the final act the earth mercifully swallowed their
heroines there was a sigh of relief all around.
But the Saigal Sita was different. There was a pain and a
hurt in the Ram Lila in which the Tehsildar's son played the role
of Sita. Not the sentimental wringing of hands nor the wild,
stagy gesticulations of the abandoned queen of Ayodhya. This was
different. The delicious _bageshri_ which began "sumana varashi
sat sura bhaley," the _malkaus_ beginning "shyam gatha rajeeva
vilochana," the _sindhura_ which began "anuja janaki shith
niranthara," or the _kafi_ which began "din neekey bitey jaathey
hain," or the concluding _bhairavi_, "raghupati pratham prem
These songs were much more than the cheap tinsel of the
costumes of the King of Ayodhya or his queen, nor indeed the
glass beads on the necklace of Mandodari, or the shoddy painted
backdrops in front of which the grim drama ran its course. The
songs made the night come alive with the power and the passion of
that fated couple and the enormous canvas of their lives.
Saigal's father attended these celebrations. He usually sat
in the front row--tall, turbaned, and erect. He took all these
activities of his son in the Ram Lila as a diversion from which
his son would soon be free.
But what he was not prepared to bear as the years passed, he
retired and moved to Jullundur, was that he did not see eye to
eye with a single thing about his son. Even his appearance was
always unkempt. The boy dressed himself well enough now and
then. Yes, he knew exactly how to look smart and chipper if he
put his mind to it and certainly was sensitive to the details of
a good toilet. But it was the total lack of a bit of personal
vanity which hurt the old man. He never asked for clothes or new
things for himself as his other sons did. They were normal,
Kundan was not. His father felt that the boy was thwarting him
As the boy grew, the father was filled with foreboding. As
his son sang all about the house the whole day long that voice
sent a quiver of disquiet through him. No pleasure. Only a fear
for this son's future. In his own way he tried to change his
son's ways. Often he advised him, sometimes beating him
mercilessly, he even tried the stratagem of humiliating him
before his brothers. Every plot that could think of was tried.
His mother suffered intensely in this relationship between her
son and his father. She often intervened between them to stop
the fury of the man against his wayward son. For example, Kundan
was forced by his father to cook all the meals and wait upon his
brothers as though he were a servant in his own house. All these
punishments the boy took with singular fortitude as long as he
was able to sing at least secretly without letting his father
In Jammu, in those days there lived a _pir_ in the name of
Salman Yousuf. This man, it was said, was a direct descendant of
Serajuddin the Sufi and himself probably belonged to the Yesevi
sect. Young Kundan had been blessed by this _pir_ soon after he
was born. Seeing that the boy's strange negligence of his
studies was causing his father much distress, she her son, then
perhaps 11 years old, to this _pir_ for guidance and blessing.
Salman Yousuf told her not to worry about her son's education and
predicted for him a great future of fame and universal adulation.
Then he blessed the boy and ritually bestowed upon him a _zikr_
and a _riaz_ which the boy was likewise made to accept ritually.
The _pir_ also told the anxious mother to send the boy to him if
he fell into any trouble.
In describing these events to him, the astrologer Badri
Prasad said, Saigal's eyes would often fill with tears and his
shoulders would shake with emotion. The _zikr_ and the _riaz_
taught to him by the _pir_ was a part of the secret discipline
directed towards the attainment within the notes of the scales
those inaudible emotional responses which conventional musical
training completely omits to develop. This discipline is
practised widely by the Yesevi order of Sufis not for the purpose
of becoming performing musicians, but as a method of acquiring
spiritual enlightenment. Jammu and Kashmir used to be along with
some other parts of India, a centre of Sufi practices and Dervish
orders, probably second only to the Central Asian Highlands where
the older orders of Sufis and Dervish schools still flourish.
In Jammu in those days many Sufi saints and Khojas and
_pirs_ lived inconspicuous lives practising their disciplines,
disguised as beggars, artisans, as workers in copper and brass
and weavers of carpets and silks. Salman Yousuf was, at the time
Saigal was brought to him, already an old man with a white and
shining beard and two piercing eyes that would make any man melt
before their penetrating gaze. Off and on and not very
regularly, Saigal practised the _zikr_ and the _riaz_ in the
years following. as often as not on his mother's prompting.
In was when he was about 13 years old that his voice began
to show the first signs of breaking. It was then the lad
panicked. In those days the good voice was supposed to be a
soprano, if you were a woman and if you were a man, a contralto
was supposed to be the ideal voice. A tenor could also sing if
he had a smooth whipped cream texture of voice and moved through
an ambiguous register with a timbre that was like a tenor below
and an alto timbre in the upper reaches. Try to recall the
voices of Abdul Karim Khan or Onkar Nath Thakur, Vinayak Rao
Patwardhan, Narayan Rao Vyas--all voices, which although they gad
gone through the break of adolescence, the process had made very
little difference to the voices of their childhood. Saigal's
high soprano suddenly disappeared.
In grew rough and squeaked embarrassingly. Its roughness
baffled the lad. Its range fell by more than four notes in the
upper register and went down by nearly six notes below his older
octave. A voice which the lad could bend and turn with great
ease and flexibility was now as contrary and difficult as it
could be. As he tried to sing the well-known favourites of his
childhood, the young Kundan discovered with a shock that he could
no longer sing. To him it seemed that he was under a sentence of
Thee was an unaccustomed silence in the house. His father
wondered. His mother wondered. The boy every night wept into
his pillow to sleep. Softly to himself he would croon to find
out whether as the weeks passed there was any change in his
voice. But there was not. His friends told him that this was
normal. After all he was a boy and boys were not meant to sing.
His mother sensed this fear in this brooding silent son of
hers. When a singing voice is silenced the silence that ensues
is deafening in the extreme. Even his father wished some time
that the boy would sing, if only to cheer up the house.
Together, mother and son tried several nostrums. First they
thought that it was only a cold. The doctor prescribed Kalzana.
Then it was the turn of homeopathy. Ferrum Phos, Kali Mur came
and went. Then the _vaid_ took over where the homeopath had left
off. Turmeric and jaggery, three almonds ground to a paste eaten
on an empty stomach; garlic and ginger; fomentation on the neck
with _neem_ leaves in hot water; Ganges mud-poultice and
poultices of paper boiled in milk and mustard oil massage--
everything from folk medicine to contemporary practices were
tried. The growl and the rumble remained.
Confused and frightened, Kundan went to school listlessly
and listlessly returned home, sat and brooded secretly. Often he
would try out his voice forcing it to pitches it was no longer
able to reach and found that his voice cracked and felt sore at
the end of his effort.
Finally, one day he went to his mother and asked her whether
he should not go to the _pir_ Salman Yousuf, and ask for his
help. After all, the old man had told her to visit him if he was
in any trouble. This thing, Kundan told his mother, that had
happened to him was the greatest trouble he had ever had. His
mother did not quite see it the same way. She was concerned
about her son's voice, yes. She was herself a singer of some
depth and quality although she had never been trained and her
repertoire consisted largely of old-world ditties and folk songs
of the Punjab. She loved to have Kundan accompany her. When she
sang with him something woke in her own singing. And they had
often sung together out of earshot of her husband.
Kundan's father often scolded her for guiding his son in the
loose ways of a singer, inept, feckless and shamelessly generous.
She would have been somewhat relieved if the boy would begin to
study with a will and pass his School Leaving Certificate
examinations and perhaps go into one of those professions which
people in her world would understand. She had once dreamed that
her son would join the railways and then she could travel with
him for little or no expense at all to the pilgrim towns of
India, to Benaras, to Gaya and Prayag, and to the temple of the
South famed in legend and song.
So when the boy came to her with this tragedy of his
breaking voice, she did not entirely agree with him that this
kind of trouble was what the _pir_ had offered to help him with.
It was more than a year later that the mother and the son
undertook the journey, to the _pir_. By that time the World War
I had ended and young Kundan's father's retirement from his
service with the government as a Tehsildar was only a year a
little in the future.
The _pir_ welcomed them and said he had been expecting them.
Young Kundan described what had happened to him with tears in
his eyes, said that it would be the end of his life if he could
not sing. He had no voice any more. He reminded the _pir_ of
his promise to help him when he was in trouble. Now trouble had
come to him as large as life itself. He had no hope, no plans;
his future was black, his present was little better than death.
With these words the slender boy fell full length at his feet
upon the floor sobbing, and repeatedly struck his forehead upon
the old man's feet.
The _pir_ gently pulled his feet away and lifted him up and
seated him by his side, wiped his eyes and then cradled his head
upon his shoulders and slowly swung him back and forth as though
he were a child being comforted until his sobs died down and his
shoulders stopped heaving. Then quietly in the dim light of the
evening the _pir_ began speaking, "Do not fret my son. This
break in your voice could be the luckiest thing in your life. It
gives you a chance to be present while you are being reborn.
Life should be a succession of rebirths. It is not enough to be
born once. I agree you sang well before, but the voice with
which you sang was not yours. It was given to you. You found
it. You had not made it yourself. Now you have to redeem your
voice, the voice that was pledged to you. You have therefore to
make it from scratch. You must know every little bit of it, hour
by hour of your life, as you begin to make your new voice. Do
not sing songs for two years. Stop all songs. Practise the
_zikr_ and the _riaz_ I have given you all the time. Waking and
sleeping, keep your mind upon it, and keep your voice aimed at
it. Do this silently and softly. Let no one hear. If at some
later stage you want to practise it on your singing pitch, go out
into some lonely place where no one will hear you."
He then cautioned at said, "Now remember this is a secret
practice. Like the darkness that a seed needs to sprout, this
_zikr_ and this _riaz_ needs a secret place in which to sprout.
As you grow in this practice you will have made the _swaras_ of
your music all by yourself and since these are your own _swaras_,
the songs you will sing with them will also be yours, your own
songs, no matter whose they might have been, before you sang
them. Speech and song will become one for you. You will be able
to sing anything and remember anything. This _zikr_ and this
_riaz_ can move mountains. The impossible will become possible.
But you must not stop this practice anytime in your life. This
_riaz_ and the _zikr_ is life itself and if you practise, it will
become your life far more truly than your life is your own now.
I can tell you nothing more. If with this boat you cannot cross
the river of your life I cannot help you. Now get up, dry your
eyes and make a resolve in your conscience that for two years
from now you will not sing but practice what I have given you.
Go in Peace." With these words the old man arose from his seat
and was gone, withdrawing abruptly into an inner room. Mother
and son left together. The stars had risen on a fragrant summer
The boy that returned from this meeting with the _pir_ was
not the same that had timidly entered the presence of Salman
Yousuf. Something had suddenly awakened in the boy from the
touch and the feel of the old man. Something new, unaccustomed
and strange. Describing this experience to the astrologer Badri
Prasad, Saigal repeatedly returned to two things. First was his
slowly burning conviction that everyone, including himself, had
too little time in life to achieve anything permanent. In fact
even a long life was not of much use. Fortuitous things,
incidental things, like money or success, or power, these things
did not seem relevant in the context of this meeting he had just
had with the _pir_.
The second was the realisation, as time went on, that if he
was to live at all he must have a path to travel. And following
this path had nothing to do with what people call getting along.
This path was one thing and getting along was another. They
were not mutually exclusive but neither were they directly
related. He realised intuitively at that time that this path was
life itself, his very reason to be, and this other thing, the
succeeding, this passing of examinations, making money or getting
along, whatever people liked to call it, these things were only a
means whereby it may be possible to live so that he may strive in
the path. Mere money and success were like the fire in a
kitchen. No use unless you had something to cook on the fire.
Salman Yousuf had given him something to cook. He had to prepare
the materials given to him so that he at some stage may light the
fire to cook it on. There was time enough for the fire. First
he must assemble the ingredients so that some day he may feast.
During the journey home, the boy sat silent, withdrawn. His
hands in his mother's, not saying a word as the cart creaked
homewards. He resolved in the double darkness of the trees above
him and the night beyond that he would grow up at once and begin
the _riaz_ without wasting any more time.
Over the next two years and more the young Saigal sang no
songs. Indeed, he forgot the words of the many songs he knew so
well. Kanan Devi describes in her strange and moving book how
Saigal was always tuning his _swara_, sitting or standing.
He took Salman Yousuf's injunction to him literally in his
life. Slowly, bit by bit a new man emerged from the cocoon in
which lay covered in the past. There were many who noticed this
change with a certain bewilderment over the next several years.
But few knew what it was.
In his later years Saigal often used to say to his friend
Ali Bokhari, who used to work in those years in the All India
Radio, "I was born at the age of about 12, in a _pir_'s hut one
windy evening in Jammu." This statement was in a certain sense
only the literal truth if you understood the particular meaning
of the word "birth" in which Saigal used it, although it is true
very few people recognised what that curious episode in Saigal's
boyhood really meant.
The touch of that profound and transforming moment with the
Sheikh Salman Yousuf and the two years of musical silence that
followed made the man. The Sheikh had not merely blessed him in
a ritual sense, but what had happened to him later as a result of
the unremitting practice of the _zikr_ and _riaz_ the _pir_ had
instructed him to perform, was no miracle. It was merely the
consequence of a certain kind of effort. But it was in those two
years of his life that he worked hardest at it, that he realised
what the _pir_ had actually done to him and where this work was
leading him to.
All the uncertainties and the fears of his future
disappeared. In the place of distrust and insecurity there was
this strange certitude. And because of this growing sense of
meaning in his life, success, when it came, never went to his
head. He knew how it had all happened.
The three years following his meeting with the Sheikh
brought many changes into his family. His father retired from
the service of the Jammu and Kashmir Government. The family
migrated to Jullundur and settled very near the Panj Pir gate in
an area which is now known as the Saigal mohalla. The shift from
Nawashehr in Jammu to Jullundur was the ending of a major chapter
and the opening of a new one in the history of the Saigal family.
His father Amar Chand Saigal became a contractor and made some
While these wholesale uprootings were taking place, in the
metaphorical language of a song which he was to compose many
years later for his wife, Saigal began to learn the first steps
by which a man may learn to close his outer eyes and learn to
open his inner ones.
A large number of the psychophysical exercises that apply to
traditional disciplines whether these are directed towards a
craft such as carpet weaving or pharmacology or an art such as
music or sculpture, alter and transform the student inwardly.
Unlike the modern technique of learning, which can be called
the Organized Method, the traditional method was essential, that
is, it was at once holistic and instantaneous. In this kind of
learning, the carpet weaver did learn eventually to weave, but he
came to the art as a consequence of experiencing the nature of
wool and it was through this understanding that he wove. The
sculptor likewise _knew_ clay with which he moulded figures, and
the singer realized _swara_ experiencing the stuff of these arts
and crafts in a subliminal act of comprehension. The skills were
never learnt in isolation but occurred as a burgeoning
recognition of the rhapsodic essence of life itself.
Many varied layers of the student's inner being get
articulated and restored to conscious life by this method of
learning and by the sustained practice of these exercises the
inner essence of the artist became accessible to his art. It
would seem from all available evidence that Saigal practised the
_zikr_ and the _riaz_ most of his life. There are many who bear
witness to the fact that Saigal was always working on his notes.
Everyone thought he was crooning, as a singer may be expected to
do. This was a misunderstanding. He rarely sang walking around
even softly to himself. He sang only when he sat down to sing
with his harmonium. Since this work he was doing had nothing to
do with music in the sense of songs and performance, no one
recognized it for what it really was.
Unlike _Mian_ Tansen, who had in all likelihood received the
same thing from _Mian_ Mohammad Ghaus that Saigal got from the
Sheikh Salman Yousuf, he did not get a Swami Haridas later to
nurture and sustain him, to provide him with the incalculable
ambience of a _parampara_. This, for a man of Saigal's destiny
and talent, was indeed a grievous shortcoming.
But we must remember that Saigal was born into the trivial
20th century of plastics and vinyls, into an universe of
substitutes and surrogates for everything that was genuine and
deathless in his tradition. Yet how frantically he had struggled
with the limitation of his own historical time so that when we
see the movie 'Tansen' today, despite its distortions of history
and its too sentimental concoctions, it was Saigal's spark of
uniqueness that gave the film such credibility as it had. There
was a good bit of mystery and wonder in the singing Saigal of
'Tansen'. Doubtless the original Tansen who sang in the court of
the emperor had this same mystery and this wonder a million-fold
more. But the people who flocked to see the film knew this, were
convinced that it was the same stuff, the same order of
strangeness, admittedly attenuated in degree but of the same fire
and so were able to go home after the movie bemused and
So that morning, in the early 1930s, the young man who stood
before R. C. Boral had already in a certain sense become a
finished product in a musical sense. He had by then put in
nearly 12 years of apprenticeship on his preceptor's
instructions. Secretly, unknown to all, a radiant butterfly had
emerged from the spiky caterpillar he once used to be.
The trouble with human transformation is that it is rarely a
dramatic occurrence. They are slow, imperceptible processes
whose yeast-like workings lie concealed in the dark being of the
human person. In our daily lives we rarely, if ever, meet a
truly transformed person or indeed one on the road to such
transformations. We have no ready means by which we may
recognise such a person. We have to depend upon physical changes
or changes of habits like eating or drinking or manner or
something visual, and call that transformation.
But the person on the path of transformation does not
exhibit any noticeable external change, nothing that is visible
as change. It is the flavour of the man that changes. It is an
internal thing and at least in its earlier stages does not
exhibit an one-to-one relationship with outer life. None of his
kinsmen recognised the subtle change of emphasis in the boy.
How, for instance, he had almost imperceptibly stopped to sing,
had ceased to daydream, was full of laughter and unaccustomed
fun, never any longer seemed to get hurt or turn sullen, never
wallowed in self-pity.
Everybody thought that the lad was becoming good. They did
not know that young Kundan was becoming neither worse nor better.
He had merely embarked upon his life's journey. He had
therefore very little time at his disposal for the usual
preoccupations of those who had no journey to undertake. The
superficial difference of manners and behaviour which people
noticed were the resonance of a basic retuning of the chords of
his life, mere symptoms of a larger and a more total realignment.
Ali Bokhari in whom Saigal confided several events of his
life used to say that Saigal never ran away from home as is
commonly supposed. At that point of his life he did not need to
run away from anything in the usual connotation of the phrase.
Bokhari believed that Saigal had merely left home, left in order
to do what he believed was his main task in life. It was a kind
os work, he believed, no non in his world a that time would
understand. In order to do this work he needed a minimal
livelihood. His family's ambitions, he knew, would be out of
focus with his own. If he lived at home this work he was sure
would not be done without having to make lengthy defences about
his purposes and his life's aims.
So he left home without telling his family; where to find
him? But all the years he was away, he wrote to his mother to
tell her that he was well. But he never revealed his address and
in some cases not even the town where he lived. He often got his
letters posted from neighbouring towns. There were rumours that
he was in Bareily, some people said that he was in Kanpur, in
Lucknow, in Simla. Some of his kinsmen went to look for him.
They brought back tales that he had joined a travelling troupe of
actors and had gone to Bombay. There were also rumours that he
had gone to Bihar and some said that he had joined the mines.
On one occasion he had told Ali Bokhari that he had left
home in order to prepare himself morally for his life, and if
indeed the Sheikh had blessed him, this blessing consisted only
in providing him with the facilities to do his appointed work.
This came about fortuitously. No one directly helped him. On
the other hand, everything stood apart to let him do what he
wished to do. Within a year of his meeting with the Sheikh, he
said, nothing could stop him from the practice of the work he had
been required to do. All this other concerns, his family, his
friends, even the urge to enjoy the listening and the practice of
music, even these became secondary and finally disappeared. All
he thought night and day, waking and sleeping was his _riaz_ and
the accompanying _zikr_.
Jamini Roy, the painter, who knew Saigal from his earliest
days in New Theatres, once said, "He was such a pure character,
so simple, that it is hard to describe him in simple words. He
was like somebody who had stepped out of an icon, so unaffected,
totally oblivious of himself, like a line drawing."